What is Spot Metering?

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What is spot metering, and why is it included in so many cameras’ metering pattern options?

As we look at what is spot metering, we’ll also discuss situations and methods for using it.

Metering Patterns

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Your camera likely has a default metering pattern that is based on reading segments of the entire image area and having the pre-programmed exposure computer evaluate what types of special conditions might exist as well as basic exposure calculation.

Not surprisingly, this is called evaluative metering, smart metering, and matrix metering, depending on what brand of camera you are using. But it all means pretty the same thing. This type of metering was designed to take care of lighting and exposure situations that would fool a meter reading an average of the entire scene.

Small areas of bright or dark within a scene that you want to capture in a specific way would end up either too bright or too dark based on the rest of the scene if using averaging. A backlit portrait is the example most used when explaining how evaluative metering compensates by giving a properly exposed subject instead of a silhouette.

What is Spot Metering?

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What is spot metering? Instead of the meter reading an entire scene or multiple segments of a scene, a spot meter reads only a tiny portion of the view. In some cameras the angle of the spot is anywhere from 12 degrees to 5 degrees but many cameras now use an angle of view of just 1 degree.

A viewfinder display will show exactly how big the spot is in your camera and where inside the image area it is. Usually, spot meter locations are dead center, but some cameras may allow moving them just like focus points can be moved.

In fact, a lot of cameras show the spot metering area in the viewfinder as the central focus point. That pretty much corresponds to a 1-degree angle of view. If the spot metering is larger in your camera, it will be defined as a larger circle or rectangle in the center of the view.

In some classic cameras, there was quite a lot of difference between brands as to size of the spot and if the camera even had that option. But with our current digital cameras, most are about the same, with 1 degree being a standard. Spot metering on Nikon cameras is similar to spot metering on Canon cameras or Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, and other brands.

Learn More:Why It’s Crucial to Understand Light Metering A Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Understanding Metering Modes When to Use Spot Metering

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When to use spot metering is based on a variety of factors. The backlit portrait, or any backlit subject, mentioned earlier is a scenario when a spot meter is advantageous.

Not all evaluative metering patterns are the same and your subject matter and desired result may differ from the factory programmed camera response. Also, if you want to see what the range of exposure values are in the scene you’re viewing, spot metering will allow you to see the differences.

Spot metering examples could also include wildlife photography or sports and action photography where you want the exposure based on the intended subject matter and not on any large expanses of brighter or darker values.

How to Use Spot Metering

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Each of the brands will have a different method to get you into the proper metering pattern, some may be a switch or button on the camera body or it might be accessed through the control menu.

There are 3 basic ways we can use spot metering.

One is to leave the camera in one of the automatic or semi-auto modes and press the shutter button down part way with the spot centered on what you want properly metered, allowing the camera to lock metering on that and then recomposing a pressing all the way down on the release, taking the picture. This happens in far less time than it just did to read about it.

A second way is to manually set your exposure settings. Point the spot at what you want to have metered and see what the reading is. Then, transfer those settings to your camera or adjust them up or down based on the needs for the final image you want.

A third method is to meter various spots within the intended image area, see how far apart different parts of the scene are, and base your calculations on those readings. This method lets you see the dynamic range of the scene. You can then decide on other options such as GND filters, HDR processing, or making it a high-key or low-key image.

There are other methods that can be used for spot metering, some of it will depend on your camera brand or even the exact model, but this introduction should answer the opening question of what is spot metering and how and when to use it.

Learn More:The Exposure Triangle Explained in Plain English The Most Important Camera Settings for Beginners to Learn

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